It’s a Jungle Out There: How Freelancers Can Avoid the Bad Client


5min read


It’s a Jungle Out There: How Freelancers Can Avoid the Bad Client

5min read


It’s a jungle out in the business world and a freelancer has to take extra steps to thrive. Spot a bad client to avoid difficult situations.

It’s a jungle out in the business world and a freelancer has to take extra steps to thrive. One particular skill in the ferocious world of freelancing: how to spot a bad client. It’s like when foraging for food and knowing which plants are edible and which are deadly. Practically the same. Fortunately, there are a few signs that a freelancer can be aware of. Even seasoned freelancers who’ve been around the block often have to re-learn these signs after a slew of successful clients.

Table of Contents

  • The first red flag: they want you to work for free

  • No idea what they want nor need

  • They question your prices

  • Unattainable expectations

  • Avoid contracts

  • Lack of boundaries

  • Think everything is easy

  • Micromanagers

  • What’s a good client?

The First Red Flag: they Want You to Work for Free It’s always disguised as this. “Please send over a coded MVP of a product you’d like us to see implemented” or “Take a look and re-write our About page”.

Um, no.

They are asking you to do work for free. It’s not so different from the sneaky way employers ask full-time interviewees to prepare a solution to a current company problem. Then, take their solution, not hire them, and take the cheaper hire. As a freelancer, your time is extra valuable. You don’t give any sort of work as a precursor for an interview. If they want to see your work, that’s why you have a portfolio and a professional website.

No Idea What they Want or Need This is a tough client to have. A freelancer has little chance of winning with a client that has no idea what they’re looking for. Kind of like dating someone that doesn’t know if they actually like you or not. Only heartaches and headaches will result. If they don’t know what they want their website to look like, or what they want in in their database, how can you know that you’ll be successful at your deliverable? You can’t. The client could constantly be changing their mind about the final result, losing you time you could be spending on other projects. In a contract, you can limit this situation should it transpire. Be sure to include a limited number of revisions a client can ask for when working with you. This will protect how you work in case of an indecisive client.

They Question Your Prices Like any professional, you know the industry standard in your space. Your experience and expertise has been taken into account. Of course, if you’re just starting out, you can’t expect the big bucks. When a potential client receives your statement of your price, it’s up to them to either accept or decline. Often, they’re shopping around for what they deem is the best value. Whatever that standard is, a not-so-great client will ask you to re-negotiate. In other areas of life, negotiation is a natural action. When freelancing though, negotiating or comparing your bid to what they’ve paid for in the past is unprofessional. It also may reveal how little they know about your industry or your work’s value.

Unattainable Expectations Often clients that are unaware of your particular skill (coding, graphic design, etc.), may make an unfulfillable request. They may ask you to design and prototype a product within a few weeks when the process will take minimally a month. They don’t quite understand the time commitment involved. Unclear expectations are the biggest stressors in the workplace. So, you up you’re rate. You’ll have to spend more time completing their work with their tight deadline. But then that may cause a fight in questioning your changed rate. With these kinds of clients, you could try to educate them about the process it takes to debug a server or complete a marketing brochure. Though, again, this takes a freelancer’s valuable time.

Avoid Contracts Contracts are protective means for both client and freelancer. It acts as a plumb line in expectations as you begin working together. When a potential client says that a contract won’t be necessary, run. They are avoiding something that could hold them legally accountable if they act unprofessionally. Without a contract, you may submit work but not ever receive payment. Freelancers should have contracts and keep them in one central place to easily access them in case of a dispute. Contracts also act as another barrier in securing clients that are truly serious in working with you. If they want to hire you, then they’ll immediately sign. If they stall and hesitate, it could be an indication they are not interested.

Lack of Boundaries Some clients will be contacting you at all hours—and expecting you to reply right away. Because you are being paid for your time, they incorrectly think they can encroach on your time. Freelancers sets hours in how long they can dedicate to a particular client’s needs. Clients that expect a freelancer to be available 24/7 to respond to emails or calls fails to understand the time-work relationship.

Think Everything is Easy “How hard will it be to implement this?” or “How difficult will it be to change this?” These are typical questions from a client that believes that revision or tasks are easy. Again, these are clients that may not understand your skillset or how the process of how things are done. Some clients may even have done similar work and therefore put this timeline expectation on you. Again, they are operating under assumptions that aren’t accurate, which can be difficult for a freelance.

Micro-Managers There are clients that may tell you what to do and how to do it. Which is useful—to a point. Clients should explain their vision and what they want to accomplish. Then, assign a freelancer to execute their particular skill in helping them. But some clients have to review every bit of code, or ask you to write a report about every person you’ve talked with on the phone as a customer service. In short, they micro manage. In this kind of relationship, freelancers feel they have to ask permission on every little thing, whether it’s the size of font in a logo or trying a new email marketing header. Ideal clients explain and then allow the freelancer or the team of freelancers the trust to communicate amongst themselves and make decisions for their own area.

What's a Good Client? Good clients are gold. Look for collaboration, transparency, and autonomy. Good clients understand you’re operating under their vision, but you still have expertise to share. They’re the ones that are patient when you inevitably mess up, but are also the ones that apologize right away when they may make a mistake. Good clients show their humanity while still treating the client-freelancer relationship with a level of professionalism and respect.

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